Twenty-five inmates at the White County Detention Center tested positive recently for COVID-19, according to Sheriff Phillip Miller.

“All of them were in one housing unit,” Miller said. “We traced it back to where it came from – an inmate in the Department of Corrections that came from a COVID-free unit, but they are quarantined.”

He said the jail has been following the Arkansas Department of Health guidelines concerning handling the positive cases. “Friday will be the 10th day” of quarantine, said Miller, who added that all 25 of the inmates “were asymptomatic.”

He said the nursing staff evaluates and checks on the inmates every day and the detention staff has been going to the pod with the 25 inmates three or four times a day to check on those who tested positive as well. “Like always, they are provided with all the cleaning supplies. They are monitoring them for any symptoms.”

He said COVID-19 tests have been offered to the other inmates, “but not all of them took them. About 100 or so refused to take the tests.”

White County Judge Michael Lincoln said Miller also has arranged for any inmate that wants a vaccination to be able to get one.

Lincoln addressed the White County Quorum Court on Tuesday night about the virus, saying, “I don’t probably have to tell you that COVID numbers are going up.”

As of Monday, the rolling average number of daily new cases had increased by 114 percent over the past two weeks, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University researchers.

Lincoln said he has “been in touch with different [county] officials” and they are comfortable at the moment “with the protection” the county has in place for its employees. “... But this is literally going to be a week-by-week consideration.”

“I am wanting us to stay open as much as we can,” he said. “I have got to think about keeping those offices open.”

He asked the justices of the peace, “Are you all aware that White County is one of the lowest vaccinated counties in the state? I just want to make you all aware of it – 35 percent is where we are. You all may consider, the court may consider to, I may consider making some kind of statement of awareness, not a mandate, just of awareness.”

On Tuesday, public health researchers called the rapid rise in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Arkansas “a raging forest fire,” and the state’s top health official warned that he expects significant outbreaks in schools.

The model by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health projected a daily average of 1,039 cases over the next week. The model also predicted an average increase of 169 new cases per day in children under the age of 17.

Arkansas leads the country in new cases per capita, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins researchers.

“COVID is no longer smoldering. It has broken out into a raging forest fire that will grow in size and strength,” according to the UAMS forecast. “We cannot stand still. We must act to reduce the consequences of this new surge to the extent possible.”

Included among those who have been infected recently are Higginson Mayor Randell Homsley. The Higginson City Council canceled its monthly meeting July 12 due to Homsley testing positive for COVID-19, according to a relative posting on the City of Higginson’s Facebook page.

“We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause for anyone,” the post said. “We covet your prayers for Mayor Homsley and his family as five of them are now Covid positive, and we pray that the rest of our community stays safe and healthy.”

The Daily Citizen called Higginson City Hall to check on the mayor and his family and got a recorded message saying to leave a message because no one was currently in the office.

Dr. Jose Romero, the state’s health secretary, said he was concerned about the possibility of a “surge on top of this surge” when school begins this fall. Laws enacted this year prevent schools from mandating face masks or from requiring students and teachers to be vaccinated.

“I expect to see this year significant outbreaks within the school system,” Romero said during a virtual discussion on vaccine hesitancy held by U.S. News and World Report. “What’s already telling me that’s going to happen are the number of day-care closures that have occurred because of outbreaks occurring, and camp exposures and closures occurring.”

Romero said the key to combating those outbreaks will be parents stressing the importance of wearing masks.

Dr. Bechara Choucair, the White House’s vaccinations coordinator, visited the state Tuesday to meet with Romero, hospital leaders and other health officials. Choucair said the medical community will play a key role in countering misinformation that has fueled vaccine hesitancy. Arkansas has one of the highest rates of vaccine hesitancy in the nation and one of the lowest vaccination rates, according to officials.

Among those who are eligible to receive the vaccine (ages 12 and up), 40.33 percent are fully immunized and another 9.89 percent partially immunized, according to numbers from the Department of Health on Wednesday. The state had 11,475 active cases of the virus as of early Wednesday afternoon.

Information for this article was contributed by The Associated Press.

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